Interview: Picking Whiskeys with Justins’ House of Bourbon

Visiting Louisville? Justins’ House of Bourbon is a must-see. One part bar, one part retailer, one part museum, this unique business offers pours and bottles of top-shelf whiskeys from decades past, up through the present.

Want to obtain or taste a dusty bottle? What about allocated whiskeys more commonly found on the secondary market? Or maybe you want a great whiskey cocktail? You can find all three at Justins’ House of Bourbon, located one block off Whiskey Row, the heart of Louisville.

This business also excels with single barrel whiskey picks. This red-hot category, where retailers work with distilleries to select and bottle a single barrel of whiskey, shines at Justins’ House of Bourbon. In the past year alone they completed 175 picks.

For a look at how this business, which opened in 2018, has quickly become a mecca for bourbon and whiskey, we recently spoke with General Manager Brian Booth.

Beverage Dynamics: How many single barrel picks do you currently offer?

Brian Booth: We offer one of the most extensive selections of single barrel picks around. We have 10 on the shelf right now from New Riff alone, with probably another 15 or so from other distilleries, currently on the shelf. Starlight, Widow Jane, Wilderness Trail, Pinhook rye and bourbon, and more

BD: How do you choose which barrels to bottle during a pick?

Justins’ House of Bourbon General Manager Brian Booth.

BB: When looking at single barrels, you have to find the flavor profiles that are not on the shelf. What’s the outlier? If you’re trying five or six samples, you need to figure out which one stands out.

And it’s not really something you can prepare for. It’s in the moment.

You don’t want something that’s off-putting. You want something that’s balanced, but with nuances and flavors that you don’t get in the rest.

When we do picks we don’t want to do something that feels safe. We want single barrels that are outliers. We want to bottle juice that people have never experienced before.

BD: What advice do you have for retailers and clubs just now picking whiskey?

BB: You have to keep in mind your clientele.

Some picks might taste more like what you like, but you have to keep in mind what your clientele would like. Put aside your palate and your tastes and say, ‘What can I sell to my clients? Maybe I like that bold finish, but a lot of my clients who are just getting into whiskey may want juice that’s more balanced and smooth.’

That’s why I like to recommend picking two barrels, if you can. One that’s an outlier, and one that’s perhaps more balanced and palatable for more people. Choose one that’s soft, one that’s bold.

You have to find out what your clientele like. Do they prefer higher or lower proof?

A selection of single barrel whiskey picks at Justins’ House of Bourbon.

BD: You keep using the words ‘clients’ and ‘clientele’ instead of ‘customers’.

BB: They’re not customers, they’re clients. When you think of them as clients, that’s sustainability for a business. You’re not picking whiskey barrels to pick barrels. You’re picking barrels that represent who you are and what your clientele wants and cares about.

Figure out what that is. Understand what your clientele likes so that you can sell it to them. That’s sustainability. We rely on our clientele to have a business that’s thriving. You create that trust by understanding your clientele.

Remember: A client’s experience does not end when they walk out your door. Their experience follows them home to where they sit in their favorite chair and open your single barrel and the experience continues. And that happens every time they open that bottle with their friends, as well.

And you’ve got to be passionate about all this. If not, then what are you doing?

BD: I’m always struck by the active celebration and education in Justins’ House of Bourbon.

BB: The experience of bourbon is about meeting with other people. Bourbon was made to congregate the intimacy of the American spirit. Bourbon is the intimate spirit of America.

This interview was edited and condensed for publication.

Kyle Swartz is editor of Beverage Dynamics magazine. Reach him at kswartz@epgmediallc.com or on Twitter @kswartzz. Read his recent pieces, 7 Craft Whiskeys to Watch From the Kentucky Bourbon Festival and When Will the Alcohol Packaging Shortage End?

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